Alex Vines
Research Director, Area Studies and International Law; Head, Africa Programme
A peaceful election, underpinned by credible electoral processes and responsible behaviour by all Mozambique’s politicians will allow the country to focus on tackling poverty, writes Alex Vines.
Mozambicans queue outside a polling station in Maputo to vote in presidential and legislative elections on October 15, 2014.Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images.Mozambicans queue outside a polling station in Maputo to vote in presidential and legislative elections on October 15, 2014.Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images.

The parliamentary and presidential elections in Mozambique today are the most important since 1994. Up to 10.8 million registered voters will elect Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) Felipe Nyusi as the country’s fourth president. What is uncertain is the size of Frelimo’s majority and how many seats the opposition will win out of the 250 parliamentary seats available.

How Felipe Nyusi performs as the next president of Mozambique will be determined by the vote. A narrow margin would weaken Nyusi’s future mandate, while  a too strong mandate could mistakenly convince Frelimo that it can continue its path of elite growth, the hallmark of the Guebuza decade.  President Armando Guebuza’s shadow lies long over Frelimo and he remains party president until 2017, giving him influence over future government decisions. Post-elections, once Nyusi consolidates his position and gets more confident, we should expect steps  to remove Guebuza from this position.

In 2009 Frelimo captured 75 per cent  of the vote in national elections, and Guebuza won a second and final term by a similar margin although more than 40 per cent of the electorate did not vote . This election promises a higher turnout because Frelimo has appointed Nyusi, an untested presidential candidate and the opposition Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) has surprised many observers by attracting support following its return to targeted armed violence in 2013-14. Only a  few months ago it looked like Renamo’s leader Afonso Dhalkama’s decision to return to armed violence had been miscalculated and would be punished by the electorate, leaving a third party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) to overtake it.  

Frelimo and Renamo hope that support for the MDM peaked in the 2013 municipal elections as both see this party as threatening their support base longterm. MDM’s current leader, Daviz Simango, is hoping to build on the party’s gains as it won four mayoral seats and secured 365 (30 per cent) of 1,216 municipal assembly seats. Furthermore, MDM mayoral candidates took more than 40 per cent of the vote in 13 municipalities, including the most populous provinces and in the Frelimo heartlands of Maputo and Matola.

So why has Renamo’s leader Dhlakama suddenly attracted such large crowds at many of his rallies? Partly out of curiosity to see a historic figure that has been in news daily over the last 18 months. But also for challenging Frelimo, which has failed the youth and the poor in parts of central and northern Mozambique. Young people  increasingly play an important role in voting across Africa and in Zambia in September 2011, the youth vote secured the presidency for Michael Sata to the surprise of international observers and the incumbent Rupiah Banda. Mozambique’s youth have no memory of liberation, apartheid destabilisation of Mozambique and the civil war: they want jobs and housing and see Frelimo providing just for its own. MDM and Renamo have tapped into this frustration by promising change from growing inequality, widespread poverty and 39 years of Frelimo government.  Although the growth figures for Mozambique are impressive and have averaged 7.4 per cent over the last decade, Mozambique still ranks poorly at 178 of 187 countries in the latest United Nations Human Development Index. 

Renamo’s strategy since the civil war ended in 1992 has been to extract elite bargains with Frelimo through brinkmanship and confrontation. The September 2014 agreement officially ended the resumed armed conflict of 2013-14.  Both parties have continued down this road  by providing an amnesty for recent violence; re-integrating Renamo fighters into the army and allowing Renamo a greater say in election oversight. Some Renamo grievances were legitimate but the government badly mishandled the situation in late 2013 which resulted in an unnecessary escalation.

This election campaign shows that in the short term Dhlakama has gained from his decision to resume targeted armed violence. Renamo has not yet disarmed and a clear-cut electoral loss will prove difficult for Mr Dhlakama to explain to his supporters that they can still gain by remaining in the democratic process. Domestic and International observers will play a critical role in the coming weeks to ensure the election process is credible as political tensions are likely to rise quickly. In the event of a presidential run-off election, they would be heightened further.

Armed violence should not be seen as a viable strategy to obtain further concessions by any political party. Investors are watching Mozambique closely and want stability and predictability. A peaceful election, underpinned by credible electoral processes and responsible behaviour by all Mozambique’s politicians can help Mozambique continue to combat the  main threat to its people: poverty.

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